By Peter J. Smith

SHANGHAI, July 24, 2009 ( – Although 2009 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the one-child policy, China’s second largest city is not celebrating. Far from it. The Times Online reports that far from fearing overpopulation, the city of Shanghai has pleaded with married couples to help them stave off the looming crisis of demographic implosion by having a second child.

Shanghai has announced pro-procreation policy, that contrasts sharply with the rest of the nation’s strict enforcement of the “one couple, one child” policy that has inflicted forced abortions, involuntary sterilizations, and catastrophic fines inflicted on the local population to limit the growth of its 1.3 billion persons. Yet the fewer numbers are exactly what has Shanghai worried, because the city is faced with not enough young men and women to sustain its aging population.

“We advocate eligible couples to have two kids, because it can help to reduce the proportion of the aging people and alleviate a workforce shortage in the future,” Xie Linli, director of the Shanghai Population and Family Planning Commission, told the Times.

Zhang Meixin, a spokesman for the commission, also told the Times that more than three million people over the age of 60 constitute the population of Shanghai. That makes this age cohort 21.6 percent of Shanghai’s population, which as Zhang stated, “That is already near the average figure of developed countries and is still rising quickly.”

If the rate of demographic decline continues, they project that by 2020, the number of elderly will make up 34 percent of the city’s population. The Times reports that a similar phenomenon is happening throughout all of China, and by 2015 the working-age population will begin to decline, and begin to increase the pressure on the social system to support the aging group of pensioners.

According to the Times, the US-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies released statistics earlier in April that presaged the Chinese fears. The group predicted that by 2050 China will have just 1.6 working-age adults to support every person aged 60 and above, a steep decline from the 7.7 adults per pensioner back in 1975, just a few years before China instituted the one-child policy. By 2050, over 438 million Chinese will be over the age of 60.

Zhang emphasized to the Times, “The current average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime is lower than one. If all couples have children according to the policy, it would definitely help relieve pressure in the long term.”

Yet according to the Times, more than 7300 couples from one-child households are already eligible to have two children, but many of them decide instead to have either one or none at all. The Times analysis seems to indicate that the one-child policy may have also effected a material-driven youth culture that views children as necessary to carry on the family name, but otherwise an obstacle to having a good time found in frequenting clubs, restaurants, shopping malls, and traveling. If true, the phenomenon would exhibit characteristics similar to the attitude of “youth culture” in Europe, which also faces the specter of catastrophic demographic decline. Many Europeans delay having a child well into their late-thirties or forties, fearful that the responsibilities of parenthood would put constraints on a life of leisure.

In one chat-room debate observed by the Times, participants expressed fear that very soon children will no knowledge of “uncles” or “aunts,” and that the cost of living and education have made having children a prohibitive cost for even couples who want children. Another online poster remarked upon the stark difference between the China of Chairman Mao, who appealed for Chinese to have large families of five or six children with China’s situation today saying, “In the future we may not be willing even to have one and it will be like the West with a falling population. Terrible!”

However Population Research Institute, a non-profit educational organization focused on exposing human-rights abuses committed in the name of population-control, says that while small moves toward relaxing the policy are beneficial, they fear that official action has come as too little and too late, “because their demography has been so altered by the policy.”

PRI Media Director Colin Mason told that he and PRI President Stephen Mosher – Mosher was responsible for documenting and exposing the ruthless enforcement of the one-child policy for the first time to the West – both had recently visited China and found that most of the people with whom they came into contact expressed a desire to have more children, which was stifled by the fines and punishments of the one-child policy.

“There is no consensus among the Chinese people that [the one-child policy] has been good for their nation,” said Mason. He also pointed out that the government also faces an enormous burden with its aging pensioners, because the one-child policy severely damaged a tradition in Chinese society where children acted as a social security net or parents in their old age. In many ways, that responsibility has shifted to the government, which now carries with it severe economic consequences.

“Our message is pretty consistent: we hold that overpopulation has never been a problem and never will be,” Mason told LSN. “Western nations should take the cue from China, now that even China is begrudgingly accepting the fact that it is not overpopulated.

Mason cautioned, “These nations that think that they are overpopulated should look at themselves and their own policies, and make sure that they are promoting bigger families and basically greater population growth.”

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